Friday, March 24, 2017

Race Report: To Be Human Again

I am still one of the lucky few who have never had to write about a DNF (did that merit a spoiler alert?  Sorry if it did), but it’s something I look forward to because there are just so many dimensions in finding the strength to persist.  When the day comes for me to have to write about it, it will surely take volumes to describe the eleventy-bajillion ways I done-fucked up.

The 100mi Northburn Station was the closest I’ve ever come to not finishing, even though I finished with more than nine hours remaining on the race clock.  So hopefully this will keep you entertained in the meantime.

I signed up for Northburn Station in a fugue of lunacy during the week leading up the 2016 Angeles Crest, despite not needing yet another Hardrock qualifier (Fat Dog was good for the 2016/2017 lottery; Angeles Crest is good for 2017/2018).  I wasn’t looking to get much from this race—it didn’t qualify for the North America-based Ultrarunning Race series, and I didn’t have a running reputation to protect in the southern hemisphere—so I pretty much booked it just because I needed the assurance for if I fucked up Angeles Crest. 

For those of you too lazy to look it up, Northburn Station is the only Hardrock qualifier in the Greater Australia region.  Despite not having any altitude, the entire race is crammed into a merino sheeping station spanning 13,500 hectares over the Dunstan Mountains in Central Otago.  This was unique from all my previous hunnerd experiences as it was completely on private property, so there weren’t any general public mulling about and wondering what the fuck we were doing and getting all in our way or what not.  The hills are steep, starting at roughly 300m above sea level next to Lake Dunstan and then rapidly increasing to the 1600s as you proceed east, resulting in a total elevation gain of 10,000m+ and necessitating a generous 48h time limit.  The course was designed in three different loops, where you have to return down to the start/finish at 50k, 100k and 160k, so it was pretty compatible for someone like me who prefers to roll without a crew.  Both the 50k and 100k races were on the Australia/NZ skyrunning circuit, to give you an idea of how stupid this race was. 

here's the Google Street View of Northburn Station from the highway across Lake Dunstan.  let's just say switchbacks are a rarity in New Zealand.
Training for this race was a bit of a challenge, living in snow-covered Calgary.  Runs were often done in ankle-deep soft snow, so it was fairly difficult to find extended-duration time-on-feet opportunities in the wild which wouldn’t have fucked my gait up.  I was only able to muster up an 85k pavement pound around Calgary about a month before the race for a time-on-feet exercise, but the elevation for that race barely registered more than 600m.  I did however manage a few heat training sessions at work, when I misjudged the weather and put on one too many layers.  Going into my taper I was generally confident about my fitness as there really isn’t much of a difference between training for a hunnerd in the summer and one in the winter—it really comes down to time-on-feet and ensuring you pack some hills in somewhere. 

I spent the day before the race with a quick shakeout 5k shakeout jog in Bendigo just north of the race course, trying to get a feel for how my shoes gripped the terrain, having never tested them on NZ dirt.   I then proceeded to blow through more than a half-dozen vineyards in the area as part of a hilarious fruit-juice cleanse, but one pattern I noticed that was consistent with each vineyard was that they were all 2-3 weeks behind their scheduled harvest due to an Indian summer.  Conditions were just above freezing during the night and reaching the high 20s by mid-day.  The race briefing further supported the notion that this race was not like traditional Northburn Stations, as there was no chance of blizzards or wreckhouse winds on the alpine sections.  There would be some cloud cover on the first day, followed by silly winds at night blowing everything away and turning the mountain range into a clusterfuck of a heatsink on the second day. 

My goals were thus prioritized as follows:
  1. Finish with time of 3x:xx:xx.
  2. Finish.
  3. Don’t vomit on my shoes. 
  4. Don’t die.

The goal time was based off of my Fat Dog time of 36:19—I figured if I traded the 20mi for 2000m more elevation gain and some probability of heatstroke, I’d come pretty close to what I did that race.

Loop 1 – 51k, ~2650m

The 50ks and 100ks all started together with us but their bibs were colored differently—naturally I had a few runners that appeared to be going at a suicide pace at the beginning.  The RD, Terry joked to the 100mi’s that it would be prudent to start out nice and slow, and then get even slower as we made our way uphill and figured out who was running which race.  The race started with an unrepresentative and uncharacteristic 5k loop on rolling hills before ending up back at the start, then proceeding on a casual 1400m grind to the top of Dunstan, the highest point in the range. 

It was at this ascent where I realized just what running in a sheeping station meant—
  • Sheepshit.  Even though all the sheep were confined to a section nested between loops 2 and 3, there were patches just covered in it for kilometres at a time. 
  • Fence stiles are a luxury.  Yes, I climbed over a few crude ones on the West Highland Way, but that pales in comparison to having to hop over a couple of wires tied together with flagging tape. 
  • No shade.   Trees impede sheep from their meals.  'Moonscape' is an apt description.
  • But this gives certain shin-ripping spiky plants with detachable barbs the opportunity to grow.
  • Bones.  Fucking.  Everywhere.
  • Errant baa’s.  Because fuck your tactical napping.
  • The occasional feral pig who doesn’t like to be cornered.  You’d think it’s hard to corner a pig over 13,500 hectares but it’s possible when they hang out by fences. 
fuck this shit.

fuck this shit as well.

Given all the above, the climb to Dunstan was particularly hilarious as it started out with tracking a fence through sheepshit across uneven ground.  My poles made it easier to climb but that earned nothing as I couldn’t run on the flats or downhills without risking an ankle blowout so early in the race.  As I was following a fence, there really wasn’t a trail either so I had to watch my step with the risk of landing the tops of our shoes onto the prickly speargrass with detachable barbs. 

After negotiating the fence I was eventually rewarded with following the moss nestling a stream down and back up.  It made it easier on my knees, as I was able to run a little bit faster on the softer ground.  The water tables of the mountain range were also weirdly high, so the creek water actually tasted better unfiltered than what was coming out of course marshals’ water tanks.  I had a few sips and leg dips prior to starting tracking the stream uphill, and then had one sip prior to coming across a section of months-old sheepshit.

Well, if I’m getting giardia, I better be getting a fucking buckle for it. 

the way up.  (stolen from Sweatband Photography)
Following the top of Dunstan, there was a sustained 2+ hour downhill started with bombing through more moss and then back on 4WD track.  I had to stop to remove a speargrass barb at one point that was stuck on the inside of my shoe, and in doing so I was caught by a 50k runner from Auckland named Angela.  We had been yo-yoing each other, alternating on the uphills and downhills like I usually do, but I struck up a conversation with her so I could protect my knees by running at a conversational pace.  The downhills eventually led us to the Loop of Deception—the 4WD road led us to within a quarter mile of the start/finish, but then away on more 4WD road to varied terrain through gullies and within sight of a tree or five.  I took a caffeine pill roughly six hours into the race, with intention to repeat every eight hours. 

the way down.  (stolen from Sweatband Photography)
I finished the loop in just over seven hours, which wasn’t too bad and completely expected.  The analog I was using was the 2015 MSIG Lantau 50k, which had around 3500m of gain compressed into a smidge over 50k—I logged 9+ h on that one without poles, so I was completely content with how I did on this loop.  I ran into the start/finish to restock, down some pickle juice, and give my legs a quality massage roll before heading out again in less than 10 minutes.  For some reason I also had potatoes and soup in the middle of the day, but it was nice to have some actual food in my belly, so whatever.

Loop 2: 51k ~3755m gain

My goal for this loop was to try to finish it prior to sundown.  Terry had said loop 1 was run in the day, loop 2 was run at night, and loop 3 was run in delirium, but I wanted to prove him wrong by finishing loop 2 in the 'day'.  This was a bit ambitious as the loop had substantially more elevation gain than the previous, more than the MSIG Lantau 50k, and on the tail end of another 51k.  It started off by a Death Climb that was an almost three-hour hike up to Leaning Rock, which marked the southeast boundary of the race course.  This hike was a bit of a grind—it was starting to get stupid-hot and dry creeks were rare.  I reeled a couple of runners that had passed me on the opening loop but was also passed myself by the faster hikers as I trudged my way up the 4WD track.  As I got to the top of the plateau, I ran into a fog bank that made it possible for us to see our breath while being simultaneously cooked by the really strong sun and wearing a singlet—a most bizarre phenomenon. 

said plateau.  (stolen from Sweatband Photography)
After Leaning Rock I had to reverse the 4WD track a couple kilometers to aid station TW (it stands for something, but I wasn’t paying attention), which was the only place I had access to drop bags.  I’d return to TW a total of four times over the course of the race, but I quickly switched my Speedcross 4’s for my Wings 8 SG’s, restocked my pack, took a dump in an outhouse with a flushing mechanism (seriously weird for a hunnerd) and downed some more pickle juice.  This was also my first encounter with North Face’s stupidly expensive, stupidly awesome 8-person 2m tall geodesic tent—if it wasn’t for the price I’d be rocking this at every race I could volunteer at, and also in my office.

spoiler alert: this was quite literally the high point of my mobility.  (stolen from Sweatband Photography)
Following TW we had to run a huge descent that was sustained for over 5k, followed by yet another climb up to the Mount Horn marshal—Mount Horn really wasn’t the summit of anything, but rather a place marked by two rocks that look like horns.  Just shy of Mount Horn I ran into a baby sheep carcass—face still on and everything, just lying on the track.  Mother Nature is a cruel mistress, but getting rejected by your mother is also cruel.

Mount Horn had a wooden hut that would have been a little more inviting if there was a blizzard—but I could feel my quads start to cramp after hopping the last few wires.  As we started descending from Mount Horn towards the track that followed the powerline pylons, my knees started seizing and I was starting to see my strides were shortening.  As a result I couldn’t negotiate steeper descents without using my poles to brace the fall and I slowed down considerably.  My goal of not finishing this loop in the dark gradually slipped away and my headlamp turned on shortly getting off of the steep stuff onto drivable 4WD track.  I popped another caffeine pill here to keep me going as the night was born.

Mild "undulation" marked the remaining 10k as we went up and down hills the equivalent of East Coast moountains on our way back to the Start/Finish.  My quads really started burning here and there weren’t any creeks left to jump in, while the cooling off of the evening did absolutely nothing, so my strides got even shorter as I got closer to the lights of Cromwell.  After what seemed like forever I finally ran into the start/finish just past 11am—nearly 17h to run 102k, which still wasn’t too bad given the insane heat and elevation gain.  But with almost 30h to do the last 60k, finishing the race wasn’t exactly out of the question—it was just a matter of seeing how stubborn I actually am.

Loop 3: 61k and 4019m gain

Knowing that every sedentary minute increased the chances of my knees locking up completely, I managed to stumble out of the start/finish in less than 10 minutes again following the customary massage roll, repacking and pickle/brine ingestion.  My pace was inching closer and closer to 10 minute miles, but mentally, hallucinations had not set in yet, and I was still weirdly cognizant—no doubt from the ridiculous pain I was feeling in my knees.  

Of course, the most difficult loop would be saved for last, but on its own, 61k over 4000m of gain is still a stupid run.  The route took us back the way we came in off loop 2, and then what would be a 4-5h hike to Mount Horn, just for the mindfuck.  Before turning off of loop 2 I nearly ran into a hedgehog on the track—I wasn’t hallucinating because another girl saw it too but it was just so weird seeing one of these things in the wild. 

I was passed by three runners on the climb up to Mount Horn, but I had completely run out of fucks to give at that point and was just really wanted to finish.  It was very depressing rolling into TW the first time within the top 20 but now in freefall down the ranks, and this stupid climb was not doing anything for my spirits.  On short downhills I was starting to notice I couldn’t extend my strides to take advantage of the potential energy, and had to land my poles first prior setting my feet down, so I knew this was going to be fucking long loop.  Near the top of the climb I had to track yet another fence line with no track, and it gave me the opportunity to get down on my hands and knees—except I couldn’t move my knees anymore.  It was no longer possible to land my heel in front of the other foot’s toes.  I thus had to negotiate the climb using my feet and while holding my poles much lower than the handles.  Once I got to the top, I found out my uphill speed was the same as my downhill speed.

Mitigation was out of the question as I was so far away from a medic and I had nothing on me to release the twitch.  I remembered that I once tied an arm warmer around my quad during the latter stage of Fat Dog tobasically deal with the same issue, but unfortunately both arm warmers were being used in the heat of the night, so I elected to keep trudging along.  I couldn’t see any headlamps as I slothed along the 4WD track so at least I was holding my position steady.  (I wasn't hallucinating, but mostly because it was cognitively challenging trying to discern artificial lights from stars on the horizon.)

I got to Mount Horn, where the warm hut was looking much more inviting now, with a heater all set up and what not—but I was still cognizant enough to recognize I needed to get the fuck off the mountain as quickly as possible.  I cleaned the marshal’s truck out of plasters for my chafing, apologized profusely for leaving him in a pickle, and then made my way up to TW, passed by two runners already on their way down to the finish line. 

I was alone when I reentered TW after the slow trudge up, so I guess I was clearly transitioning from the mid-pack to the back of the pack when I got there.  I skipped the pickle brine this time as I knew that in order to fix my quads, it would take enough pickle juice to turn my farts into pure hydrochloric acid vapor.  From there we headed back towards loop 2’s ascent to Leaning Rock, albeit in reverse, before returning to TW. 

Somewhere along the loop I managed to lose track of the trail markers, and ended up in a gully so full of speargrass and other assorted prickly plants it looked like both my knees fought a litter of kittens.  I spent nearly a mile and half an hour deciding whether to make my way to what actually ended up being runners behind me, or backtrack to the last trail marker and go from there.  Part of the issue was that the GPX file I put on my watch told me I was actually on the course, but it was particularly windy with some Roaring 40s in the gully so the barometrics were probably throwing my actual position off.  Common sense eventually got the better of me and I backtracked out, but the adrenaline of being lost and being stabbed by barbs was also a welcome addition; ditto the herd of cows with their freaky eyes who decided to feast amidst a blind corner.  I still couldn’t see any other headlamps behind me so I wasn’t too fussed about this wasted half-hour.

Shortly after meeting the half-way marshal on this loop, I could see a headlamp probably a mile behind me.  We were effectively now following the same track going up to Leaning Rock on loop two, which was a little depressing since I had hiked that much faster than the pace I was going at.  I strolled back into TW just prior 7am, and about 20 minutes after my headlamp low-battery warning came on.  I finally saw another racer after almost five hours, just starting the loop had finished, but my stride at this point could best be described as short limps alternating sides every 15 minutes.  

My kilometer-pacing was well above 15 minutes now.  I think the last time I ran was somewhere on the initial reversal of loop two, and I know my heart rate was consistently below 100bpm, aided in part by the cold night.  As a result, restocking was basically limited to grabbing replacement energy bars, gels and Perpeteum powder so I was able to transition out pretty quickly, relative my condition.  I had a slight reprieve now on an out-and-back to Leaning Rock on graded 4WD track, which was nice mentally planning where to plant my fragile feet for a couple of kilometers.  I got to Leaning Rock probably two minutes prior to the next racers, but only held that lead up until the start of the next loop.

‘The Water Race’ (so named as an abandoned water route for mining operations long ago) was comprised of just stopping short of TW and then descending an absolutely technical trackless terrain with occasional sheets of aged plastic liner over more speargrass, before returning to TW on 4WD track via the longest switchbacks ever.  It was absolutely sadistic—you knew you had to go back to TW one more time before heading home, but here you were, running SW and downhill away from TW on the most ruthless terrain ever to exist 132km into a 160km race.  Ropes were set out and one point on what seriously appeared to just be random axe cuts on the hill side, and if that wasn’t any indication, the complete lack of animal shit on this loop obviously showed that this section was not even frequented by any animals.  The long climb back to TW over the long switchbacks more suitable for one-speed cyclists out for a boulevard ride, marked by a wind blowing from the west that I’m pretty sure gave me tinnitus. 

Once I got to TW, none of the volunteers acknowledged me because of how bitchy I looked—but really because of all of the back-of-packers just starting out their loop 3 also arriving at the same time I did—so I quickly skedaddled out of there after grabbing my last pack of Perpeteum.  I could have also restocked my caffeine pills here but I elected not to since I was barely breaking a sweat waddling this loop.  On this downhill I tried to squat down or even do the Morton stretch on a fencepost to get some flexibility back, but my knees just wouldn’t allow it.  I knelt down at one point to even try to get my ass down to my heels, but hilariously enough my knees wouldn’t bend past 90°. 

When I got down to Mount Horn for the last time, I just blew right by since I just wanted to get this over with.  They offered to call me a ride since my face apparently was painfully contorted, but they also followed up with encouragement since it was still late morning and I had almost 24h to make my way down.  This was followed by some of the most runnable jeep track I had ever experienced—except I wasn’t in any condition to run any of it.  As more and more runners passed this waddling hiker, I finally caught sight of where they were holding all the sheep, while the sun was now sky high in a cloudless sky burning the skin off my forearms and face.  I had not anticipated to be running past this time of day so unfortunately I had no sunscreen on me.  

The last 10k was marked by yet another steep climb, away from Lake Dunstan and thus the start/finish.  Part of me was strangely worried now as the impending downhill scared me more than the grind of the uphill itself.  It has always been a mantra for me to believe that uphills were where I earned my downhills, but in this instance it was more of a punishment. It was also windless in places to the extent I was completely covered in mosquitoes, but I wasn’t actually bitten, probably because they mistook me for a lesser human, all bitchy with his waddling.  After meeting the last marshal 6k out, I was dejected to learn that it was now completely downhill in the sun.  It took me almost four hours to cover that 6k, but on the final climb into the finish line, I managed to muster a pained waddle of short strides which at least had the same locomotion as running, despite having the slowest speed I ever crossed finish line in.  Terry had been keeping track of my absence—the GPS tracker I was given had a maximum battery life of 12h and it had been nearly 22h since its last battery change, so he knew some shit must have gone down when I disappeared off the map but was still checking in with marshals.  He gave me a big hug for showing him a rather hilarious finish for the day and for toughing it out despite my challanges, before I excused myself to pay the medical tent a visit.  I was still OK with how I did as, like West Highland Way, I finished with my shades on.

this, my friends, is the epitome of stubborness.  
I'll just say it right here--this series of unfortunate events was all my fault.  I'm still working through physio to figure the knees out, but the insanity of loop 3 was likely a result of a combination of 
  • Wearing Altra Rockguards in already narrow-foot Salomon S-lab Wings 8 SG’s, thus constricting lividity 
    • Forgetting I have a pair of half-size-bigger Hoka Mafate Speeds specifically for 100k hippo-feet footwork
  • Not training while carrying all the weight of all the required adverse-weather gear
  • Then bombing down TW the first time faster than I should have, despite knowing that shit would hurt later
  • Not dealing with the stupid heat properly (not that there was any ice on-course)
  • Evidently not strength training enough
  • Doing way too much speed training, which fed my impulses with downhills
  • it pains me to say it, but I've gotten soft by focusing on [B]East Coast roots and rocks as of late, instead of mountain-grinding
This is something I have until November to figure out so that I don't blow my next skyrun out either, but that is a 3-day event and the long road to getting my shit together is just as technical as the shit I went through at Northburn.  It’s definitely not permanent as symptoms subsided in less than 12h following the race, enough for me to go on a 11k hike to the Rob Roy glacier at Mount Aspiring National Park, but my knees scream at me every time I run downhill now.  


Despite taking more than 22h, my depiction of loop 3 is very much abridged, relatively speaking (partly because I pounded most of it out on the plane to Houston), and rightfully so, because I would rather remember the reasons why I headed out on loop 3 with an A-goal of running the 60k in 19h, than listing every single fucking detail about waddling on 4WD track and carefully placing my feet around the speargrass.  And I’m sure you would rather know New Zealand as the beautiful country Frodo Baggins went on a road trip across while trying to return some jewelry or something, instead of a giant sheeping station just full of asshat cows and sheepshit and plants that rip your shins and hills that kill your knees.  But I digress.

There's a chapter in Matt Fitzgerald's How Bad Do You Want It? (SERIOUSLY, READ THIS BOOK ALREADY) where he talks about the adventures of Siri Lindley.  Towards the end of the chapter when she progresses from athlete to coach, she has one of her clients write on one arm 'Believe' and 'Gratitude' on the other.  

“Gratitude” is about letting go of desired outcomes and fully embracing the privilege and process of pursuing goals and dreams. “Believe” refers to the confidence that arises naturally through this process, a self-trust that is the antithesis of the doubt-fueled fixation on goals and dreams expressed in Siri’s nightly fantasy of having the perfect race at the 2000 Olympics.” 

In this day and age of narcissistically chasing followers, likes, and retweets of your adventures, it's easy to forget to chase happiness as well.  It's easy to forget how lucky you are, how fitness is a luxury, how time for leisure is a privilege.  When I left the start/finish for the last time on km102, it was a huge leap at the time.  I had ~30h to cover 60k but I would likely take 20+h to do it, so I knew it would hurt in ways I'd never hurt before.  I told myself, 'fuck it'; 'it' being the reputation I had built since Angeles Crest in how high of a rank I've improved at races since I started hunnerds in 2015, and the fact that I am now basically a pariah in my running group because of my perceived speed.  I did not fly all this way for a DNF—or worse—the medal walk of shame at prizegiving, where 100mi runners who did the first two loops would get a medal instead of a buckle.  Loop 3 was not dedicated to my emerging brand of placing in the top 33rd percentile of fields as of late; loop 3 would be dedicated to the fact that I have the opportunity of jetting off to a far-away place for less than a week, all for the sole objective of suffering beautifully.  

The opportunity to finish a later iteration is never guaranteed.  I reoriented what it meant to fail this race—it was not being unable to make it to the finish line in a time consistent with my performances as of late, but rather a failure to develop an appreciation for suffering. 

I did not fly all this way to take [what was now fewer and fewer] names; I flew all this way to be grateful that I could.  Fucks would not be given to the 12-18min km’s I would be logging, or the hilarious farmer’s tan I have to go back to work with, or how far down I fell in rank since the first TW visit (I was top-20 at that point.)  Fucks will be given to making sure I know my place in the world, and that I appreciate all the things I don’t deserve.  In turn, that will give me the confidence to progress forward against the current.

So next time the shit hits the fan, regardless of whether you’re at a race or not--be grateful for the perspective of slowing down; for the gift of patience; for the other opportunities that have presented themselves.  
For the smell of fresh alpine air.  
Be grateful for the memories that will stick longer than the however long your totally-unnecessary performance reputation will last.  
And that'll lead you to a happier, more optimistic shit-uation than purely lamenting in the pain cave does.  

Fix your head, and your body will follow.

By the numbers:
  • Official time:37:27:18
  • Garmin barometrically-fucked-then-topographically-unfucked distance run: 163.3k
  • Garmin barometrically-fucked-then-topographically-unfucked elevation gain: 10002m
  • Placement: 38/87
  • Overall DNF%: 34%

Stray observations:
  • Despite all that, I still bagged my A-goal.
  • As part of my taper regime for hunnerds, I usually go off caffeine for a whole week, and my heart rate variability basically tanked that entire week.  
  • Flying to Auckland from Houston on a Tuesday night, I was lucky enough to have a whole middle row on a 777-300 to myself in cattle class.  I can now safely say that I have lost a pillow fort to turbulence. 
    • The Tuesday night Auckland to Houston flight was weirdly busy though; business class was completely booked up and I caught the last premium economy seat.  
    • I slept more in the pillow fort than on the premium economy seat.  
  • The wine cleanse had no effect on my performance.  I didn't feel dehydrated during the first 100k at all and I wasn't dehydrating enough on the back 60k.
  • This was the first race since September 2015 where I used poles, and the first race since September 2015 in a country that uses the metric system. 
  • No joke--the song that was unintentionally playing in my car as I was driving to Northburn at the start of the race was Do it Again by Röyksopp and Robyn.  For those of you not apprised of Scandinavian electronic anthems, here's a sample of its lyrics:
Don't care what they say
It hurts so good
I don't wanna stop
I know I should
(But let's do it again)

One more time
Let's do it again
The thing you did
Do it again

And then it arrives
The moment before
The anticipation
You know it's like mmm
Wait for it
Wait for the buildup
And then let's do it again

We do what we want
And as soon as it's done
We just do it again
Let's do it all
And when we come down
We just do it again
          Let's just say I need to start paying attention to what I play for my warm-up music.  
  • If we avoid assessing the flora and fauna of this race, and just look at the technicality—I think I may have accidentally trained for Barkley during this event.  I still have ways to go before I try to locate that elusive listserv, but progress is progress. 
    • Amazingly I wiped out only once on the fence line up to Dunstan—I landed my Speedcross on a weird camber onto a wet rock and landed on fence wire.  I am truly blessed it was not speargrass. 
      • I say ‘amazingly’, but to be fair I wasn’t moving fast enough to be a fall risk for a substantial portion of this race. 
  • Please don’t make me pick between Norway and New Zealand.  It's really difficult to gauge whether the long-ass flight and lost luggage (fuck you Air Canada, and your bulk-out policies) is worth all the wine and mountains and super-low population density.  
  • You know you’re truly suffering in a beautiful place when the place you’re running in is so magical you’re so compelled to take a selfie or five or a video to brag about it, but your arms won’t let you because you need to prop yourself up with trekking poles.  
  • I would now say one of my unofficial goals in running hunnerds is to finish all the Hardrock qualifiers before being let into Hardrock.  Definitely doable.  
    • "Don't fraternize with the herbage" seems to be a common theme among these.
  • The TSA has now gone through my luggage the last four times I was stateside.  I’m thinking I should start leaving a plate of cookies for them each time I fly. 
  • A special shoutout goes out to all the course marshals or aid station volunteers who, not once, offered me a ride back to the start line while on the back 60k.  All but the two marshals at the 150k mark and the Mount Horn marshals on my last visit did not question whether I was good to keep going.  
  • There is something to be said about the New Zealand ultrarunner calf-muscle tattoo game.

Tips for prospective ultrarunner shepherds:

  • Practice running up long sustained uphills while weighed down.  Then during the race, hike up the sustained uphills. 
  • Practice running down long sustained downhills while weighed down.  Then during the race, lightly jog down the sustained downhills. 
  • When you go through NZ customs, be weirdly specific about all the race fuel you’re lugging along and they likely won't rifle through your luggage.  They are really stringent on biosecurity.  AND CLEAN YOUR SHOES.
    •  Otherwise, just like Norway, the cost of living is higher on this side so replacement fuel may get expensive, should anything be confiscated. 
    • Also, keep your power packs out of your checked luggage.  
  • Hokas.  With the exception of following a creek up and down Dunstan on the first loop, this race is pretty much just running on hard rock. 
  • Stay the fuck away from speed work.  
  • Practice running away from civilization.

Up next

  • I’ll be starting my attempt for the Pennsylvania Triple Crown (Hyner 50k, World’s End 100k, Eastern States) with the former.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.

--Melody Beattie